by Jeff Laughlin
If I had to pick at halftime which team had the 11-4 conference record between Greensboro College and North Carolina Wesleyan College, I would have been very, very wrong.
Wesleyan had the dominant player to that point in Netaih Davis and the lead, 30-27. They had the defensive confidence, often making the right plays at the right times while Greensboro College floundered on offensively. Wesleyan looked like a confident team, shrugging off outside struggles by grinding out possessions and taking transition opportunities as they came.
Davis looked like a star. Pride forwards had no chance down low: Davis’ spin move fooled them nearly every time she saw a single defender. When she faced up, she had moves to get to the basket and finished well. After scoring Wesleyan’s first 6 points in traffic, she hit a corner 3. She led the game by herself.
The defensive shift had to come early.
After a timeout, the Pride defense focused on Davis and invited the rest of Wesleyan to shoot over a matchup zone. With Davis limited, the defense could get back to disrupting guard play and cutting off passing lanes, something they did well all game long.
The Greensboro offense, however, had no luck with adjustments in the first half. They wandered around the basket, missing multiple layups and passing up open threes after guards attracted defenders. Knowing the Pride’s considerably better record, I could chalk up the passiveness as a form of overaggression.
Passing up open shots did not necessarily mean that the Pride guards could not hit them, but that they expected better.
Despite what every coach has said in press conferences and what every announcer has prattled on about endlessly, the “extra pass” only matters if it creates a better opportunity. Greensboro did not create better opportunities on most of their possessions — only tougher shots and turnovers in desperation mode.
Their defense keeping them afloat, the Pride entered halftime with a decidedly tough road ahead of them. Though they were only down one possession, the first half proved how valuable good ones were. Greensboro seemingly had to re-evaluate its offensive approach; they had to understand their dominance both athletically and mentally. Where Wesleyan had one primary option, Greensboro had several. They had yet to explore the wide-open opportunities of their offense, settling for what they created rather than what Wesleyan provided. They were looking for a hero rather than outplaying an inferior squad.
The second half changed all that.
Where Wesleyan had to rely on Davis as a lone scoring machine, Greensboro utilized every bit of its team. Every position matched up poorly for Wesleyan after being so solid in the first half. Pushing the tempo while remaining at an even keel, the Greensboro guards led several breaks after ball pressure created turnovers.
The Pride’s Shanita Hampton began the onslaught with a steal and layup on Wesleyan first offensive set of the half. Joslyn Spires hit a pair of tough shots to extend the run.
Mixing their centers and forwards in the post, Tiffani Stephens and Vontreece Hayes both abused their counterparts for easy baskets. They got into their post moves efficiently without the fear that seemed to plague the team in the opening minutes.
Stephens proved instrumental against the second unit for the Pride — essentially tossing up a combination of sweeping hook shots and barreling layups. She got the ball easily and put shots up just as easily, creating a series of double-teams that had little to no effect on her.
The game could still have gotten tight, though, if not for Alexis Hite. Where Greensboro played timidly with open shots in the first half, Hite essentially shot Wesleyan out of the building early in the second. In a series of flash runs, Hite and the Pride simply crushed their opponent.
That there were so many people involved highlighted the strength of Greensboro — they are a solid unit. When one part of the team failed, the rest of them filled holes. The defense shined all day, and the offense buttressed that performance with a half for the ages.
When the horn mercifully sounded, Greensboro College (now 18-4, 13-3 in the USA South Conference) had turned a 3-point deficit into a resounding 71-54 victory. They had scored most of their 44 points in the first 14 minutes of the second half, creating shots and taking what the defense had no choice but to give. They exerted their dominance forcefully and without a single person to hand a game ball to. Everyone contributed, everyone won. They didn’t need a hero, they just had to remember how good they really were.